Arias on the Rocks?, Arias with a Twist, and Arias di Alan

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This is James Taylor with Theater Talk.

The big news in the Southern California performing arts world this week was Los Angeles Opera received an emergency loan from the County on Tuesday to the tune of $14 million.

In the last few years LA Opera has become one of the most important and innovative opera companies in the country, attracting top singers, conductors and famous directors. That it is in financial trouble is a real wake up call — and a real shame given that the last few weeks has seen LA Opera at its best. A beautifully sung Tamerlano closed last week and a delightful production of Rossini's The Barber of Seville opened just after Thanksgiving, featuring two of the world's finest interpreters of the lead roles. Clearly this kind of quality does not come cheap — and despite some belt tightening earlier this year, LA Opera is still deep in the red.

After Barber closes next weekend it will be almost four months until we see another opera at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. (What's scary is that The Barber of Seville was also the last production staged by Opera Pacific before it folded around this time last year.) Next up is Gotterdammerung, the final opera in Wagner's Ring Cycle. "The Twilight of the Gods" is the translated title and we can only hope that the sun is not setting on the era of first-class opera in Southern California. Anyone who is passionate about arts in Los Angeles has an interest in keeping the lights on at LA Opera and allowing them to continue staging challenging work.

redcat.jpgSpeaking of opera and arias, across the street from LA Opera, REDCAT is hosting its own flamboyant entertainment, albeit on a much more modest scale. Arias with a Twist, a collaboration between the New York cross-dressing chanteuse Joey Arias and renowned puppeteer Basil Twist, features no real arias — instead it features a mixed bag of songs, some wonderful marionettes and lo-fi theatrical magic. Part drag show and part puppet show, Arias with a Twist is not for everyone. Sure, most will appreciate the puppets, especially the four-piece marionette combo band and the tap dancing puppet chorus line; but the campy plot/narrative/monologue (whatever you wish to call Mr. Arias' patter) is slight and his singing, while passionate to be sure, is hardly easy on the ear.

cumming.jpgEqually unrefined in his singing — and arguably even more of a camp icon — Alan Cumming is bringing his one man cabaret show, I Bought a Blue Car Today, back to the Geffen Playhouse next week. Cumming made his name singing on stage in the Sam Mendes' production of Cabaret, but the Scottish performer is still working out the kinks in his real cabaret act. His rendition of the Sinatra staple "That's Life" is cringe-inducing and much of his between-song-banter seems lifted from anecdotes he's already shared on late-night talk shows. But despite its rough edges, Cumming has an undeniable desire to entertain. I give him credit, rather than just cash-in and do another studio movie, Cumming continues to get up on stage and sing. (I should add the Geffen's new 115-seat space is perfect for this kind lounge-style show) There's the spark of a real, old-fashioned entertainer in Cumming, and one feels that with time and more experience, he could one day be a first-rate Cabaret act. I hope he keeps at it, just as we need opera companies and serious stage dramas, theater also depends on light entertainment. I Bought a Blue Car Today is certainly light, but it's also surprisingly entertaining.

Alan Cumming's I Bought a Blue Car Today runs at the Geffen's Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater from Sunday through next Saturday; Arias with a Twist at REDCAT ends this Sunday, and The Barber of Seville continues at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion through Sunday, December 19.

This is James Taylor with Theater Talk for KCRW.

Banner image: Sarah Coburn and Lucas Meachem in The Barber of Seville. Photo: Robert Millard